Wednesday, October 15, 2014

Putin's PR People and Me by Paul M. Barrett

Please help me welcome Paul M. Barrett as my Wednesday's Guest today. He wrote the fascinating nonfiction book, Law Of the Jungle that I reviewed on Sunday. If you haven't seen the review hop on over, but do come back and see what happened to Paul just before his book was released. Paul seems like a cherry pie kind of person to me, so let's all have a slice, grab a cup of coffee or tea, and enjoy...
 

The author's perennial dilemma: respond to critics? What's more pathetic than the published carping of a writer offended by less-than-admiring reviews? Very little.
Photo Credit: Nadine Natour

Despite a general rule of letting detractors have their say, my ears perked up when I began to hear from journalists around the country that representatives of the Ecuadorian government were contacting them about my new book--and not in a supportive vein--weeks before the late-September pub date. The administration of President Rafael Correa, it turned out, wanted to raise questions about my credibility and accuracy. Fellow journalists got in touch wondering what was up. Here's the story.

My book, LAW OF THE JUNGLE (Crown), describes a campaign to save the rain forest that went horribly awry. One narrative thread addresses the Ecuadorian government's persistent failure to protect poor farmers and indigenous tribe members from the harsh side effects of the industrialization of the Amazon. President Correa and his Ambassador in Washington, Nathalie Cely, would prefer to blame all of the collateral damage from oil exploitation on a foreign oil company, Chevron. In fact, there's plenty of blame to go around, and you can read the book to get the sad, infuriating details.

In its zeal to deflect culpability, the Correa government hired a major New York-based public relations firm called Ketchum to try to discredit my book. Ketchum sent a six-page, single-spaced memo to Ambassador Cely outlining the "difficult questions" the book raises "that negatively affect Ecuador." (The memo was marked "reservado y confidencial," but it didn't remain very confidencial. A source who asked for anonymity sent me a copy.) In an ad hominem swipe, Ketchum wrote: “It remains unclear when and how many times Barrett visited Ecuador or if he interviewed anyone from the Government. This can be converted into a point that we can raise, but only in suitable settings and among appropriate journalists.”

Sure enough, Ketchum got the green light from the Ecuadorian Embassy to start raising questions with "appropriate journalists"--presumably those the PR people thought might be sympathetic to Ecuador's efforts to evade responsibility for the rain forest contamination. This preemptive smear attempt failed. The journalists who were approached by Ketchum had the temerity to check with me--imagine, they did some reporting!--and learned that I'd been to Ecuador on two field-reporting trips and that I had interviewed government officials, including Ambassador Cely

More out of amusement than pique, I decided to write a short web post for Bloomberg Businessweek (where I hold down a day job) giving readers a peek behind the scenes. I noted that Ketchum had impressive credentials when it comes to carrying water for dubious foreign governments:
  A division of the advertising and marketing giant Omnicom, Ketchum counts among its clients President Vladimir Putin of Russia—no doubt a challenging engagement, what with Russia fomenting mayhem in Ukraine. Kathy Jeavons, a Ketchum partner in Washington, heads both the Russia and Ecuador accounts for the firm. I asked Ketchum—and Jeavons individually—for comment. Through an internal spokeswoman, the firm declined to say anything of substance, referring me to the Ecuadorian embassy. Ketchum didn’t dispute the memo’s authenticity.
What's the moral of this little account? For those in the disinformation business, it's a good idea to keep close track of your internal memos. For authors who rightly hesitate to whine about reviewers, stay on your toes about well-funded hit campaigns; sometimes it's worth responding. And for the government of Ecuador, I'd humbly suggest that the money spent on confidencial smears might be put to better use cleaning up oil pollution and building medical clinics.

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Paul M. Barrett is an assistant managing editor and senior writer at Bloomberg Businessweek.  He is the author of the New York Times bestseller Glock: The Rise of America’s GunAmerican Islam: The Struggle for the Soul of a Religion, and The Good Black:  A True Story of Race in America.  He lives and works in New York City.





2 comments:

Paul PazyMino said...

This is not an independent researched book explaining the Chevron in Ecuador case, it's a pro-Chevron one-sided dump of their legal filings written to give the impression that Barrett actually researched the case. It shamelessly masquerades as “impartial” but the facts do not bear that out.

Peter Maass, author of Crude World: The Violent Twilight of Oil in his review of Barrett's book in Outside Magazine wrote, "There are two side to the story of the biggest environmental lawsuit ever, but a new book tells only one of them."

Barrett, did not interview the Ecuadorian legal team, did not read the trial record in Ecuador and spent only a few days there. Many of us who have supported the communities for decades are shocked at the lack of real reporting here. He made it appear as if he interviewed Donziger, even tho he only took from Chevron's legal filings in their bogus RICO action.

There is no fraud by Donziger nor the Ecuadorians. The only "evidence" of any ghost written judgment was the testimony of a corrupt ex-judge who was paid hundreds of thousands of dollars to testify. Chevron either bought off or pressured witnesses, fabricated evidence and spent hundreds of millions all to avoid paying to clean up. Barrett ignores all of these issues in his book. Leaving such facts out is either grossly incompetent or deliberately misleading.

The Sierra Club, Amnesty International, Greenpeace and over 40 other human rights and environmental NGOs have condemned Chevron for its dirty underhanded legal thuggery in this case and for violating the First Amendment. Why is that not a part of Barrett's "story"?

Barrett avoids the truly scandalous and criminal examples of Chevron's tactics to hide contamination during the Ecuador trial, like swapping toxic soil samples with clean ones, and avoiding sampling at depths at which Chevron knew contamination existed, at locations Chevron knew were still contaminated, and were downgradient from known contamination. You'd think that a book purportedly covering the largest environmental litigation in history would merit a real review of the evidence, much of which was provided by even the skewed soil and water samples taken by the company.

Three layers of Ecuadorian courts – eight appellate judges – reviewed and upheld the $9 billion verdict, and threw out Chevron's claims of fraud. But for Barrett, apparently U.S. courts are the only legitimate court system in the world. Barrett lets Judge Kaplan off the hook for his colonial overreach in judging a country's legal system that he knows nothing about. Kaplan can't read the native language, nor did he read the trial record.

Worst of all, Barrett is promoting his book under the false headline that the case against Chevron in Ecuador “failed”. This is patently false as enforcement actions are underway in Canada, Argentina and Brazil (which Barrett knows). Barrett unwillingness to correct this misinformation time and again is perhaps the most obvious indication of where he stands on the “truth”.

Learn about Barrett’s ongoing bias here: http://amazonwatch.org/news/2014/0930-business-journalists-rush-to-rescue-chevron-from-its-ecuador-disaster

Here is an excellent point-by-point critique of this book by the Ecuadorian legal team: http://chevrontoxico.com/assets/docs/2014-barrett-critique.pdf

Barrett’s book is so bad that he and his publisher are liable to be sued for defamation letter: http://chevrontoxico.com/assets/docs/2014-09-09-letter-to-barret.pdf

A decent and fair look at the case appeared in Rolling Stone (which also refers to Barrett’s book as pro-Chevron): http://www.rollingstone.com/politics/news/sludge-match-chevron-legal-battle-ecuador-steven-donziger-20140828

The documents refuting Chevron’s bogus RICO claims, likely to prevail with the federal appeals Court are here:

http://stevendonziger.com/wp-content/uploads/2014/07/2014-07-02-Donziger-brief.pdf

http://stevendonziger.com/wp-content/uploads/2014/07/2014-07-01-Ecuadorians-brief.pdf

Maryann Miller said...

Thank you for the insights into the issue that many of us did not know. While Barrett did not weigh in heavily on the responses from the environmental groups, I did get a sense from the book that:

1. what Texaco and then Chevron did was disastrous to the environment.

2. that the legal efforts in Ecuador were hampered by agreements made between Texaco/Chevron and the Ecuadorian government.

3. that Donziger brought the case to the U.S. legal system to garner media attention for the problems.

There are always two sides to a controversial issue, and I respect your opinions. Thank you for taking the time to respond.